Only Parents Can Prevent Today’s Children From Becoming Tomorrow’s Flu Statistic
As we countdown to National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec 7-13) here on Shot of Prevention, we’re participating in a special blog relay with other Flu Vaccination Digital Ambassadors. Each day a different blogger will post about the importance of flu vaccination as it relates to various populations such as parents, children, healthcare workers, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions. Your invited to join us in conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #NIVW2014, or by commenting on the posts that will appear on the following sites: A Place for Mom (12/1), Nurses Who Vaccinate (12/2), Voices for Vaccines (12/3), Healtheo360(12/5), HealthCentral (12/6), and About.com Cold & Flu (12/7).
The decision to vaccinate our children is based on our overwhelming desire to protect them. While it’s estimated that as many as 93% of children between the ages of 19-35 months were vaccinated in the United States in 2013 in an effort to prevent as many as 16 different diseases, only 58.9% of children 6 months to 17 years, and 52.2% of expectant mothers, were vaccinated against influenza last season.
While we may never know how many of those unvaccinated children were lucky enough to avoid the flu, we do know that each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications, and that during the 2013-2014 influenza season as many as 109 children died.
The question is, how many more will suffer or die this season?
Despite the fact that childhood influenza vaccination rates have been slowly, but steadily, increasing each year since the universal flu recommendation was announced in 2010, last season’s statistics prove that we can do better.
As we prepare for National Influenza Vaccination Week next week (Dec 7th – 13th), it’s my hope that more parents and expectant mothers will realize how dangerous the flu can be – even to healthy children – because the unfortunate reality is that today’s children may be tomorrow’s statistic and they really don’t have a choice in the matter.
As immunization advocates, we owe it to the children to ensure their parents get the information they need to make an intelligent and informed decision. For instance, a recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012. That’s a pretty convincing statistic in favor of childhood flu vaccination.
And then there is research that illustrates the benefits of flu vaccination among pregnant women. For instance, studies show that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women has been 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu. That’s because when women get vaccinated during pregnancy they are not only protecting themselves, but they also transfer antibodies to their unborn baby through the placenta, which helps provide their newborn with protection until they can get their own flu vaccine beginning at six months of age.
And we can take this protection even further. By ensuring that everyone who comes in close contact with infants gets their flu vaccine – to include parents, siblings, grandparents and caregivers – we further reduce the risk of flu in young babies who are more likely to suffer serious complications.
Right now we are at a critical point in this year’s flu season.
Since the flu began spreading across the nation in October and November, five children have already died. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop that protect against influenza virus infection, it’s imperative that parents take the steps now to get themselves and their families vaccinated before they are exposed.
As a parent to five children of my own, I can attest to the fact that scheduling yearly flu vaccines can be challenging. Not only is it a struggle to locate where children of different ages can be immunized, but it can be stressful to shuffle kids to the doctor, clinic or pharmacy amidst all the other activities we are constantly juggling as parents.
But I urge you to make your family’s yearly flu vaccinations a priority.
I’ve had the distinct privilege of getting to know various parent advocates who have lost their children to influenza or other vaccine preventable diseases. And I’ve yet to meet a single parent whose child has died who wouldn’t give anything to turn back time and vaccinate their child if they were given the chance.
This season, I’ve not only ensured that everyone in our family is vaccinated, but I’m encouraging others to do the same. I feel good knowing that I’m helping to protect myself, my children and others in my community, especially pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions who are all at high risk of flu complications.
You can do your part too.
If you have questions or concerns about the flu vaccine, visit www.cdc.gov/flu to get the information you need to make an informed decision. The flu vaccine has not only been safely administered to millions of people, it’s also been credited with preventing an estimated 13.6 million flu cases, 5.8 million medical visits and nearly 113,000 flu-related hospitalizations in the United States over a six-year period (from 2005 to 2011).
If you haven’t already done so, take the flu pledge, find out where to get your flu vaccine and encourage others to do the same. (You can even send a flu vaccination e-card!) Then share your flu vaccine selfies on social media using the #VaxWithMe hashtag! And help us keep the conversation going by reading the other blogs that will be posted as part of the this National Influenza Vaccination Week Blog Relay, beginning with tomorrow’s post which will be hosted by Healtheo360.